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Baptist association tackles BF&M 2000 debate

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Two Baptist associations in Alabama have joined the ranks of those debating how the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) will affect their ministries and makeup.

Birmingham Baptist Association (BBA) and Mobile Baptist Association recently addressed affirmation of the latest revision of Southern Baptists’ official faith statement, which was adopted during the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Orlando.

The Mobile association declined to require associational employees to affirm the 2000 BF&M as well as other stricter guidelines during a Jan. 14 executive board meeting.

In November 2000 messengers attending the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) annual meeting chose to commend all versions of the BF&M but not any one version over the other. James Bruton, pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church, Birmingham, read parts of the “On Doctrinal Heritage and Confessions of Faith” resolution as he explained that the decision was made because “the Alabama Baptist State Convention has never written or adopted a confession of faith, and Baptists have consistently honored the Christian faith as a noncreedal people.”

Bruton served as chairman of the ABSC resolutions committee for the 2000 annual meeting. While controversy has arisen about whether statements of affirmation are necessary for the various SBC entity employees, Alabama Baptists have avoided division over the issue. But that could change.

During the Jan. 13 board meeting of the BBA, Randy Overstreet, speaking on behalf of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, presented a motion to the executive board “requesting the Birmingham Baptist Association to change its constitution and bylaws to adopt the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message and hold association member churches accountable to its contents.”

Members of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, adopted a resolution earlier this month calling for this motion to be made to the BBA. Overstreet, who serves as interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, confirmed that the resolution stated that all but $100 per month of the church’s funds directed to the BBA would be escrowed until the decision was made on this motion. The resolution also states that if the motion is not passed, the escrowed funds will not be given to the BBA.

“We feel we need to adopt it because we want to be supportive of our convention,” said Overstreet. “It is a biblical confession. … We feel strongly about the statement on the family, [the statement] on social order against racism, gambling … and homosexuality and the statement on sanctity of life.”

The BBA currently operates under the 1963 version of the BF&M, a decision that was reaffirmed by the BBA’s membership committee in 2002.

While noting that he received “a lot of support” for his motion from other pastors, Overstreet explained that he spoke only for First Baptist Church, Birmingham. “We adopted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a church in 2000,” he said. “We are in support of the confession of our convention.”

The motion prompted a story in The Birmingham News speculating that the motion was targeted at Baptist Church of the Covenant, which called Sarah Jackson Shelton as pastor August 2002. Article IV of the 2000 BF&M states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Dan Nichols, who was elected BBA moderator at that same meeting, said, “The name Church of the Covenant nor Sarah Shelton were never mentioned. We are not of the spirit and nature in this association to attack one another. This is not a divisive issue.” Nichols is pastor of Walkers Chapel Baptist Church, Fultondale. “This is an … effort and desire to see God’s work done.”

Overstreet said, “Some people see the Baptist Faith and Message as a dividing document, but I see it more as a document of definition. It defines what Southern Baptists believe.”

Nichols said the written motion will be presented to the BBA’s executive board in April, but the earliest it could be voted on would be July. For constitution and bylaw changes a 90-day window must exist between submission of the motion and the vote, Nichols noted.

He explained that while the motion was submitted Jan. 13, a specifically written explanation of how the constitution is proposed to be changed must be presented to the executive board.

Then at least 90 days later a vote can be taken. The vote will be taken by secret ballot and a two-thirds majority vote is required to change the constitution or bylaws, he added.

Each member church has two votes — one minister or staff person and one layperson — Nichols explained.

“I have no idea how this will play out, but it will be (done) expeditiously and in proper procedure so that no one church or messenger can feel like they have been compromised,” he said.

“Yes or no, pass or fail, we’ll still be the Birmingham Baptist Association,” Nichols said. “Some people may agree with it, some may disagree with it [but] no one will walk away saying it was handled in the wrong way. No one is going to be aggressive or hurt anyone else,” he noted.

“The Birmingham Baptist Association is a family of churches. … We protect one another,” Nichols said. “This is a very healthy association.”

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash